Sunday, May 1, 2011

Celebrating the death of Bin Laden

Until President Obama said it, I didn't celebrate. I saw the graphic, "Osama Bin Laden Is Dead," but I chanted, "Please be true. Please be true."

The President's speech was mesmerizing. I think he could have cut a couple of minutes, but he used the time to praise people associated with the operation. His finish, with the Pledge of Allegiance, reached to the right, but got me to stand at attention with hand to heart. A great moment in American history.

Symbolically, I had to open American bubbly. I had some older Schramsberg wines, and as soon as I realized I had the 2001 J. Schram North Coast Brut Sparkling Wine, I knew it was perfect. The grapes, which came from vineyards in at least four counties, must have been harvested within three weeks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mostly they would have been harvested just beforehand, in a better time. A time when the Battle for Seattle was our biggest conflict. A time when travel was less onerous, and when we didn't realize people wanted to kill us because of the kind of movies Hollywood makes or other aspects of our culture. Imagine, people who wanted to kill us because of Jerry Springer or topless women in gangsta rap videos. Or for our political support of Israel. Or whatever. People we didn't know, people we never personally did anything against, wanted to kill us.

This guy, Osama Bin Laden, wanted to kill me. Planned to kill my fellow Americans. Abandoned his family, spent his fortune, to kill us and damage our way of life. And the horrible thing is, he succeeded. We can eliminate him, but we can never make air travel convenient or pleasant again. We can never eliminate the growing bureaucracy of search, the intrusions to our privacy. Hopefully we can bring our troops home soon, but we can never make up for the loss of lives of our servicemen who fought in two wars that we entered -- one mistakenly -- in response to his action. Al Qaeda wanted to ruin our lives, or more accurately, our lifestyle. And they won. Which is why tonight's celebration is bittersweet. I still cannot see a picture of the twin towers without wincing.

But I yelled and I danced and I played "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz soundtrack. (What, you don't own The Wizard of Oz soundtrack? In San Francisco you can be evicted for that.)

And I drained the whole bottle of 2001 J. Schram, which was drinking great. It's toasty, but also has bright lemon fruit, good acidity and balance. It tastes like victory -- is that napalm in the morning? It tastes like Navy Seals bursting into a chamber with Osama Bin Laden cowering in the corner, using a woman as a human shield. It tastes like a protracted 40-minute gunfight, with Bin Laden thinking his security forces had the planning and firepower to protect him. Bin Laden, hating the United States, feeling the heat of anger. Bin Laden, defiant, sure that the Americans would stand down.

The bullet ripping through his flesh. I don't care if it hurt. The main thing I want is for him to have been facing it, to have known, to have seen The Stars and Stripes on the stealth uniform of the man -- the country -- killing him.

It's an odd celebration. I've been watching CNN for two hours, and I'm watching people yell "Woo!" outside the White House and jump up and down. I admit doing a little bit of it myself, but it has felt forced. I wish this day had come 9 years ago. But maybe this will grow on me, tomorrow. I had given up. Not only would he die of natural causes, I thought, he would also die without us even knowing it had happened. He would just disappear forever, like Amelia Earhart. Fifty years from now people gone wrong would admire his hit and run style, his cowardice, his evil.

It's great that he's gone. I don't know how our grandparents felt when Hitler died, but that's the only parallel I can think of. Osama Bin Laden, the most evil man in the world, dead. And I open sparkling wine (and drain the bottle while watching CNN). It's not like passing a key test, or getting a new job, or any other event that demands bubbly. It's relief. It's pride. It's not as cheery as I pretend. But maybe that's what great celebrations are made of -- we cheer more straightforwardly than we feel.

So here's my cheer: Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead! The witch is dead, and the witch is dead. Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead!

God Bless America.


Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I was glad to hear he was gone as well, but wish it would have been a minor event when we had the chance before 9/11.

This won't keep our troops safer or get them home any sooner, but I agree that our nation needed the closure.

Semper Fi.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerald Wright said...

I'm a regular reader of yours living in Japan - where I know you used to live.

Frankly, I wish more Americans would have opted to stay inside, celebrating quietly (even solemnly) with a bottle of something fine and special rather than taking to the streets like hooligans after a superbowl. I'm American, so I rejoice, too. But from over here the celebration really did look like a people desperate to hold on to their simple myths of greatness in an ever more complex world.

W. Blake Gray said...

Gerald: When I lived in Japan I remember being regularly horrified by things that happened in my home country: the support for Tonya Harding, for example. You get used to it when you live here.

I don't share your interpretation of this, though. I think if we believed this country was impregnable, we would have been more smug. The street celebrations were more like sports victories, and those are only worth screaming about if they were in doubt.

The Bay Area was far quieter than DC or Times Square (the international attitude here is why I came here after Japan like so many others do). I'm not a native to here and I felt, compared to my neighbors, overcome by bloodlust. But I don't feel the least bit bad about it, two days later.

Alana said...

Really well written post Blake. I felt/feel the same way. Opening the 2001 J Schram was inspired. I don't have the Oz song but only because I live on the other side of the rainbow. Cheers Mate~

Lisa said...

Portland Charcuterie,

There will be no closure.


I'm surprised at your feelings of vengeance. OBL accomplished what he said he would, namely, sending America in a downward, paranoic spiral. It was as though he'd become an old horse out to pasture, sitting in a compound near a Pakistani military school. He is no longer needed, and his death may serve to resurrect his usefulness as recruitment tool (perhaps).

With his assassination 9 yrs. on I feel no "justice", as Obama called it . . . just kind of a sad wistfulness as I realize how much my country has lost, and how little gained.

Martin Redmond said...

Funny...I had the same thought..Ding Dong the Witch is dead. I really enjoyed your post, including you J Schram pick for bubbly. Bravo

Kent Benson said...

Bravo, Blake! Except for the "one mistakenly" part, I couldn't have said it better.

ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Yes, I agree with one of the comments made here, bring our troops home...thanks for the closure...but it's about time to get out..we've had enough.